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Pregnancy & Childbirth

Can I Transmit HIV to My Baby?

Yes. HIV-positive mothers can transmit HIV to their babies. This is called “mother-to-child transmission.” (It is also called “perinatal" or "vertical transmission.”) An HIV-positive mother can transmit HIV to her baby in three ways:

  • During pregnancy
  • During vaginal childbirth
  • Through breastfeeding

But with proper treatment and coordination with healthcare providers, HIV-positive mothers can significantly reduce the risk of transmitting HIV to their babies.

What Are the HIV Risks of Pregnancy and Childbirth?

An HIV-positive mother who is not being treated for her HIV during pregnancy, labor, or delivery has a 25% chance (1 in 4) of passing the virus to her baby.

However, there is good news. There are antiretroviral drugs that can protect babies from HIV infection. When an HIV-positive mother receives antiretroviral drugs during pregnancy, labor, and delivery; has her baby by Caesarian section; and avoids breastfeeding, the chance of passing the infection to her baby falls to less than 2% (fewer than 2 in 100). (The newborn babies are also given treatment after birth to protect them.)

Of course, some women do not find out they are HIV-positive until they are already in labor. But there are still treatment options that can help protect their babies. If they receive antiretroviral drugs during labor and delivery and avoid breastfeeding, the chance of passing the infection to the baby can still be significantly decreased.

For more information, see CDC's Pregnancy and Childbirth.

Should I Get Tested for HIV If I Am Pregnant?

Yes. The CDC recommends that all pregnant women get tested for HIV as part of their routine pregnancy care. Healthcare providers may also recommend that some women be tested again in their third trimester, before week 36.

If a pregnant woman goes into labor without having had an HIV test, the CDC recommends that she be given a rapid HIV test in the labor and delivery room. That way, if the test is positive, the doctors can give her treatment to protect her baby and suggest that she have the baby by Caesarian section.

However, not all healthcare facilities offer an automatic HIV test for pregnant women. If you are pregnant and think you might have been exposed to HIV or a sexually transmitted disease (STD), it is very important that you request an HIV test.

There are several types of HIV tests. To learn more, visit our HIV testing page.

Should My Baby Be Tested for HIV?

If you are HIV-positive, then yes, your baby should be tested for HIV. However, the test used for babies of HIV-positive mothers is a little different from other HIV tests.

Most HIV tests look for antibodies to HIV, not the virus itself. But these tests aren’t very useful for babies born to HIV-positive mothers. That’s because the mother’s HIV antibodies get into the baby’s blood during pregnancy. If the mother is HIV-positive, the regular HIV test will show that the baby is HIV-positive, even when that isn’t true.

Healthcare providers can use special HIV tests on children who are younger than 18 months old. These tests can detect very small quantities of the virus itself in the children’s blood. At a minimum, babies born to HIV-positive mothers should be tested at three different times:

  • At 14 to 21 days after birth
  • At 1 to 2 months of age
  • At 3 to 6 months of age

In almost all cases (95%), the special test can tell whether a baby has HIV by the time he or she is 3 months old.

Even if the tests show that your baby does not have HIV, if you take antiretroviral drugs during your pregnancy, your baby should receive long-term follow-up care by a healthcare provider.

Bottom line: If you are HIV-positive and pregnant, talk to your healthcare provider about treatment plans for you and your baby before, during, and after your delivery.

Frequently Asked Questions

I am currently taking HIV medications, and I just learned that I am pregnant. Should I stop taking my medications?

You should never stop taking any of your medications without talking to your doctor first. Stopping HIV treatment could lead to serious complications for you and your baby. If you are taking HIV medications and your pregnancy is identified during the first trimester, your doctor may recommend that you change the medications you take.

For more information, see the NIH AIDSInfo Fact Sheet on HIV Medication and Pregnant Women (PDF).

Last revised: 01/25/2012